In a new study, a researcher says plant-based and vegan diets may risk worsening an already low intake of essential nutrient choline involved in brain health.
Choline is an essential dietary nutrient, but the amount produced by the liver is not enough to meet the requirements of the human body.
Choline is critical to brain health, particularly during fetal development. It also influences liver function, with shortfalls linked to irregularities in blood fat metabolism as well as excess free radical cellular damage.
The primary sources of dietary choline are found in beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken, with much lower levels found in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli.
In 1998, recognizing the importance of choline, the US Institute of Medicine recommended minimum daily intakes.
These range from 425 mg/day for women to 550 mg/day for men, and 450 mg/day and 550 mg/day for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively, because of the critical role the nutrient has in fetal development.
In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published similar daily requirements.
Yet national dietary surveys in North America, Australia, and Europe show that habitual choline intake, on average, falls short of these recommendations.
The researcher says this is concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets.
She commends the first report (EAT-Lancet) to compile a healthy food plan based on promoting environmental sustainability but suggests that the restricted intakes of whole milk, eggs and animal protein it recommends could affect choline intake.
And she is at a loss to understand why choline does not feature in UK dietary guidance or national population monitoring data.
The researcher believes more needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet, and how to achieve this.
The author of the study is Dr. Emma Derbyshire, of Nutritional Insight, a consultancy specializing in nutrition and biomedical science.
The study is published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
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